by Joseph Klein
Speaking from the lush Hawaiian venue of the Asia-Pacific economic summit, Obama falsely claimed during a televised news conference on November 13th that “we are in a much stronger position now than we were two or three years ago with respect to Iran.”
The truth is precisely the opposite. Iran poses a graver and more immediate danger to world peace and security, and to the security of the U.S. homeland, than ever before. Iran is moving, virtually unimpeded, ever closer to developing nuclear arms capability. Iran is also planning, or already building, at least one missile base in Venezuela, which will be equipped with medium-range missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland.
Moreover, Iran has announced that it will send its warships to establish a presence along the marine border with the eastern and southern coasts of the United States. Iranian Rear Adm. Seyed Mahmoud Mousavi said in July 2011 that its frigates and destroyers have been equipped with “surface-to-surface missiles.”
Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and military reach have extended beyond the Middle East, including to the Western Hemisphere. Its Quds forces, along with Hezbollah cells, are using Venezuela as a base from which to expand their activities throughout Latin America and to form collaborations with drug cartels in Mexico, for the purpose of infiltrating the United States through its porous southern border. And let’s not forget the alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
All of these serious provocations are happening during Obama’s watch. His appeasement policies, including his naive engagement-without-conditions approach to negotiating with Iran, have exacerbated the dangers.
Valuable time was lost as Obama continued his quixotic quest for unconditional talks with Iranian officials. And when there was a real opportunity for regime change during the Iranian “Green Movement” uprising against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election in June 2009, Obama was AWOL.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations watchdog body dealing with nuclear power security, issued an alarming report last week with more detailed evidence than ever before that Iran is working toward developing a nuclear bomb capability. The report laid out information on the secretive Iranian program to enrich uranium, its development of a payload system to carry a nuclear weapon on a missile, and the computer modeling and testing of high explosives to trigger a nuclear device.
According to an ex-CIA agent, who had penetrated inside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Iranian regime “now has enough enriched uranium for six nuclear bombs.” Other more conservative experts have said that Iran now has the capability to make weapon-grade uranium and build at least one atomic weapon within six months. Either way, we are clearly running out of time to stop Iran from becoming a full-fledged nuclear arms power.
What has been Obama’s public response? More sanctions on top of the ones that have not stopped Iran’s progress. Obama even lauded Russia and China for standing with the United States in support of the past ineffective sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council, and held out the hope for a continued unified approach to Iran.
“When I came into office, the world was divided and Iran was unified around its nuclear program,” Obama said at his news conference. “We now have a situation where the world is united and Iran is isolated. And because of our diplomacy and our efforts, we have, by far, the strongest sanctions on Iran that we’ve ever seen. And China and Russia were critical to making that happen.”
Referring to the Russian and Chinese presidents with whom he met at the Asia-Pacific summit, Obama said that he spoke with “President Medvedev, as well as President Hu, and all three of us entirely agree on the objective, which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we don’t trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. That’s in the interests of all of us.”
What Obama failed to mention is that Russia in particular opposes any further sanctions or other punitive measures against Iran. In fact, Russia was angry that the IAEA report was even made public. A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said that the report was “nothing but an intentional — and counterproductive — whipping up of emotions.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted by Interfax as saying that any new sanctions “will be seen in the international community as an instrument for regime change in Tehran. That approach is unacceptable to us, and the Russian side does not intend to consider such proposals.”
Russia and China, along with significant emerging countries like India, Brazil and South Africa, have complained that NATO misused the UN Security Council resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians in Libya as a pretext to force regime change in Libya. They are using that precedent as justification to oppose other Western initiatives in the Security Council against rogue regimes, including with respect to Syria as well as Iran.
Even if Medvedev were inclined to be cooperative with Obama at this point to bring more pressure to bear on Iran, which he is not, Medvedev will soon be replaced by the more hardline, bellicose Vladimir Putin.
Moreover, the Obama administration itself is reluctant to impose the one additional sanction that could have a real bite – cutting off Iran’s central bank from the international financial system. Iran’s central bank is the clearinghouse for much of its petroleum trade, which is the key driver of its economy. Cutting off Iran’s central bank from the international financial system would effectively freeze much of its oil export market with crippling effects on Iran’s economy. But fearing a spike in global oil prices that would likely result from such a cut-off and a potentially negative economic impact on U.S. allies which currently depend on imports of Iranian oil for which they make payments linked with the central bank, the Obama administration is unwilling to take the one bold step short of military action that could actually make a difference.
Obama did declare during his news conference that he was not taking any option off the table, presumably including the military option: “I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table, because it’s my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States.”
What that warning means is hard to say. Hopefully, the Obama administration is using covert actions to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program in cooperation with Israel, such as the Stuxnet virus that slowed down, but did not cripple, Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Was last Sunday’s explosion at a Revolutionary Guards arms depot, which killed at least seventeen members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps including the architect of Iran’s missile program, General Hassan Moqaddam, an accident as Iran is claiming or was it an act of sabotage that may harbinger more such acts to come?
To what extent the Obama administration would provide support for an outright attack on Iranian nuclear facilities by Israel or launch one itself is unclear, although it should be noted that the Obama administration has sold bunker-busting bombs to Israel. This is not to suggest that such an attack would be a good idea. It would be almost impossible to take out all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and end its program entirely. Thus, the benefits of causing merely a further delay in Iran’s weapons development would have to be weighed against the potential costs. As United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “You’ve got to be careful of unintended consequences here. It could have a serious impact in the region, and it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region.”
A naval blockade against Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz would likely lead to counter-attacks on U.S. naval forces by Iran, disruptions of key oil transport routes and the unleashing of Hezbollah rockets against Israel and other targets. Again, the costs may outweigh the benefits unless a truly crippling blow could be assured against Iran’s nuclear program.
However, a blockade to prevent the introduction of Iranian missiles or missile parts into Venezuela or other Latin American countries allied with Iran would send the kind of signal to Iran that President John F. Kennedy sent to the Soviet Union when he ordered a military “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent offensive weapons from being delivered to Cuba. If an overt military option is needed, this could be one that would show the U.S. means business and would be the easiest to carry out.
Perhaps Obama will surprise us and show the boldness he displayed in making the decision to take out Osama bin Laden. But his record to date on Iran is dismal. His pathetic attempt at his news conference to spin his record as placing us in “a much stronger position now than we were two or three years ago” is an insult to the intelligence of the American people.
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